The current landscape for online travel marketing is crowded. Because it's so easy to get a travel business online, it seems everyone is doing it. There's a huge amount of travel content available online. This makes it difficult and expensive for small and mid-size companies in the travel industry to reach their ideal travelers.
You blog, post on social media, and send emails - but your engagement is going down, email open rates are well below 20%, and no one seems to reading your blog or visiting your website, no matter how many beautiful travel photos you post.
So maybe you decide to take some marketing trainings - there are lots of them available online. Most of them focus on tactics, like video, that they claim that will make your target travelers pay attention. But that often doesn't work either, and you throw up your hands and go back to relying on referrals, because digital marketing is not working for you. But what I've learned is that, in most cases, the problem isn't the medium or the tactics or even the software you're using. The problem is lack of strategy around your marketing message.
There's a lot of buzz online about telling stories, and I see lots of travel agencies and tour companies telling stories online. They are great at telling the story of what they do, how they help and how great their destination, hotels and experiences are. But the sad truth is that their customers don’t really care about that. They don’t really care about the people you met at the latest travel show you attended, or that you went to Antarctica, or that you got a big upgrade to a suite at that fancy hotel in Venice. Even if some of them do like your posts, they are often not connecting that with their needs and wants. They are just admiring your pretty pictures and envying your travel-filled lifestyle.
But there's a better way to reach them by focusing your marketing on their story, not yours. Like most humans, your potential travel customers live in their present reality, and they dream of a better future. But many of them don’t know how to make that better future happen. The job of your marketing is to build the path that will help your hero get to their better life. To do this you have to do three things.
- Understand your customer and their current situation
- Understand what they want
- Build the bridge to help them get there
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s based on the Hero’s Journey, which is the outline of most of the great stories and movies we love. There's a hero who's called to adventure, dreaming of better future. There are obstacles, and there is a wise mentor who helps them overcome it so they can get to their happy ending.
Your ideal customer has a story in their heads of what they want and the obstacles that are keeping them from getting it. Your job as a marketer is to inspire them to act, with your help, to overcome those obstacles. But remember that you are not the hero of this story, they are. You are the guide, the helper, the expert who helps them build the bridge that will get them to their goals. It's tempting to talk about the solutions your provide in your marketing, but doing so makes the marketing piece about you and not them. The main job of your marketing, is to inspire them to seek your help, not to tell them everything you can do.
When you constantly talk about yourself and your company in your marketing, you are making yourself the hero. That’s why it’s not getting through. Once you get this, go back and read your website copy and Facebook posts. Are they all about you? Instead, consider this framework for your travel marketing content strategy:
1) Develop a Deep Understanding of Your Customer.
This starts with developing a profile of your buyer persona. Talk to your existing clients about why they chose you to work on their trips. Find out what triggered them to seek help with a trip in the first place. What do their friends tell them about travel? What are they reading about travel on social media? What are they afraid of when approaching a travel professional? What are they hoping to gain?
We’ve learned the most effective way to get this kind of information is to combine surveys with interviews of people in your target market. Your goal is to understand the things that keep your ideal client up at night and the things that inspire and excite them. Without this deep understanding, it’s nearly impossible to craft a compelling message.
2) Write Your Ideal Customer's Hero's Journey
Where are they now? Where do they want to go? What are their goals? What are they dreaming of?
Are they a grandparent who’s watching their grandchildren grow up too fast, and looking to make an impact on them by taking the whole family on a life-changing adventure to the Galapagos Islands?
Are they a busy couple with lots of to do who are having trouble making time to connect with each other, and they need help making time for meaningful vacations where they can slow down and remember how much they love each other?
Or is your ideal client a recent retiree, with time and money to travel, but because she’s never taken the time to travel in the past, is confused about where to go first, and how to get it all organized in the best way possible?
3) Build the Bridge with Your Offer
Now that you have the starting point and end points, it’s time to build the bridge and map your offer to your hero’s journey. What does your ideal client have to believe in order to get to their goal and make their dream vacation happen? How can you help them get there? What are the key insights, services, or products you offer that can help them achieve their travel dreams?
When you stop talking about what you do, and start talking about your customer's needs and desires, you'll find it easier to get their attention. Incorporating these stories in your digital marketing will help you design compelling marketing messages that can be applied to any advertising medium – video, social media, or even print. If you’d like to learn more about how to use stories to improve your marketing, click here.